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How long is it safe to use Retin-A

Tretinoin (generic Retin-A) is one of the most effective medications on the market for treating and preventing acne, wrinkles, dark spots, and saggy skin.

A common question from people contemplating using tretinoin is whether tretinoin is intended as a quick, short-term treatment or a consistent, long-term solution. For most, tretinoin is prescribed as a long-term medication to be used consistently over the course of several months or years. Usually a minimum of two to six months are needed to see noticeable results. Tretinoin is also safe to use over the long term, with some studies examining the effects of tretinoin for as long as four years.

Tretinoin Takes Three to Six Months to Produce Results

In general, it takes three to six months to see results from tretinoin. Multiple studies show a significant improvement in skin quality after 12 weeks of use. Unlike many over-the-counter skincare products, which promise immediate results, tretinoin can take several months to start working. It is also very common to experience a temporary increase in acne or skin dryness during the first few weeks of using tretinoin, also known as the Tretinoin Purge or Tretinoin Uglies.

Research Shows Tretinoin is Safe for Long-Term Use

Tretinoin was first approved as an acne medication as early as 1962. Since then, there have been various studies on its long-term safety and effectiveness, showing that tretinoin is safe for long-term use.

In a 2005 study, participants were given either .05% tretinoin cream or a placebo and instructed to use the medication daily. Over the course of two years, tretinoin produced a “significantly greater improvement” than the placebo cream in clinical signs of photodamage, ranging from fine and coarse wrinkling to skin hyperpigmentation, sallowness and lentigines (liver spots).

Prescription Retin-A first became popular decades ago as an acne treatment. Soon, its general anti-aging effects were confirmed as well. In 1988, a study conducted at the University of Michigan for Retin-A’s effect on photodamaged skin found that all 30 patients showed statistically significant improvement after 16 weeks.

A retired firefighter in Florida told the New York Times that she has been using Retin-A for about two decades. An even longer study carried out in 1996 evaluated the long-term effects of tretinoin over four years, and found there were no negative effects from long-term tretinoin use over the course of two to four years.

When To See A Doctor

Tretinoin typically makes the skin worse before it makes the skin better. (See additional skincare blog posts about the adjustment period.) That being said, please speak to a doctor immediately if you feel intense burning or itching upon application, or experience severe blistering or crusting.

People who have documented allergies to Vitamin A or any retinoids, women who are pregnant, and those with eczema should inform a doctor of their conditions before beginning Tretinoin. People who have been using or are using other retinoids or products that contain sulfur (such as Salicylic Acid) should inform a doctor about all products they are using and should generally allow for some time between changing treatment plans.

Before starting treatment with Tretinoin, it is advised that you thoroughly and completely discuss current medications and your medical history with a trained professional.

Talk to an Alpha Provider Today

If you’re struggling with acne, wrinkles, dark spots, or saggy skin, there are prescription skin care options available to you. With Alpha, you can consult with a doctor or nurse practitioner, be examined, and receive your treatment quickly and conveniently from your own home. Our providers are experts in building custom treatment plans and are happy to walk you through any questions or concerns.

While not for everyone, Tretinoin offers a powerful treatment option for those who suffer from acne, wrinkles, saggy skin, and dark spots. If you are concerned about the possibility of negative side effects or drying, you can be assured that with Alpha, you are always able to consult a professional without the weeks- or months-long wait at a physician’s practice.




Alpha Medical is a telemedicine company that provides instant access to doctors who can diagnose and treat over 70% of conditions online, including mental health, primary care, skin & hair, and urgent care.

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